Country Home in Cragsmoor
from "Dadda" by Alexander Lee
A few years earlier ( MMP: 1911 ) , my folks [ L.J.Munson and Anna Lee Munson ] found a lovely vacation retreat at Cragsmoor, Ulster County, N.Y. It was high up in the Shawngonk ( MMP: Shuangunk ) mountains, a foothill of the Catskills. Several of their friends went there every summer. The first time they stayed at Broadhead Grove in a rented cottage.
The cottage wasn't much, but Cragsmoor was beautiful. The family went there every summer for over sixty years.
In the early days it was an all day trip. Subway to ferry to Weehawken or Hoboken, then a long ride on the Ontario & Western (we called it the Old Woman) to Spring Glen (or Ellenville) where the always faithful Miss Georgie Wright met us with Nigger (her horse) and her carriage. I remember crawling under the back seat and sleeping all the way up the mountain to Cragsmoor.
During our first summer up there, Dadda made the long trip to visit and to see the place about which we all raved excitedly.
He must have been very impressed. On his return trip to New York, he became acquainted with a man who said that he had a choice piece of property in Cragsmoor. Dadda became all ears.
"How much property do you have?" he asked.
"Over a hundred acres just below Bear Hill," he replied, going on to extol the beauty of the place.
We had taken Dadda up to Bear Hill during his brief visit. So he remembered the magnificent view of both the Ellenville and the Walker Valley view from the top of Bear Hill. The trail to the top was steep and narrow. It led through the Lemon Squeezer and a corner of Devil’s Kitchen. Pulpet Rock thrust up just west of Bear Hill. In places huge rock slabs hung precariously over the trail.
"The property includes the face and front of Bear Hill." The man went on . "There is a 3 story resort hotel and two lovely cottages 3 or 400 yards away from the hotel."
Then he explained that he was liquidating an estate.
"We have a caretaker – a young Polish fellow – living in the hotel"
By the time the train reached Weehauken, Dadda had made a deal to buy the full hundred odd acres – subject to a survey.
Dadda gave the upper cottage to his daughter Helen (Aunt Helen), and the lower house to his daughter Anna (my mother).
[ MMP: slight correction: 1911 rented a cottage in Broadhead’s Grove. 1912 rented "Five Oaks." 1913 Dada bought Five Oaks and Upper Cottage. Later bought Savoy House and changed the name to Lee Vold Lodge )
Aunt Helen and Uncle Oscar preferred going to the seashore for their vacations, so after one summer, Mormor (Dadda’s wife and my grandmother) took over the upper cottage. Her kitchen always smelled like a delightful bakery. She baked bread, pies, cakes, and special potato pancakes that she cooked on top of the coal burning cast iron stove.
Dadda would drive up in his big Hudson every week-end. He gave the 3 story hotel with its surrounding acres ( MMP: 15 ) to Anna Larsen and her sister Miss Lee, the daughters of the brother who helped him get his first berth on a sailing vessel.
They promptly named the place "The Lee-Vold Lodge" and did a thriving summer resort business for many years, catering to a Scandinavian clientele. They were hard workers, and good cooks. They were also good hosts, promoting picnics and games and musical evenings, etc.
After the Lee-Vold was open for business, Dadda would have a carful of people every time he drove up to Cragsmoor.
One Saturday morning Dadda had a carful of husky men. He passed my Dad (in his ’17 Ford Model ‘T’) who had two women (Lutheran Sisters) as his passengers. Dadda and his passengers waved somewhat derisive greetings, and sped on toward Cragsmoor Dadda had the new Hudson Sedan.
Coming around a sharp curve, Dad saw a crowd of men around Dadda’s Hudson which lay on its side on the right hand side of the road. In those days most roads were black macadam with a high crown in the center for good drainage. Dadda had been speeding along to pass a car, which caused him to be driving on the left side as he attempted to pass the other car.. There was seldom much traffic on this road. Dadda had driven it dozens of times. But this time a car suddenly approached him on the other side. So to avoid a collision, Dadda jammed on his breaks and swung over behind the car he was attempted to pass. During this maneuver, his top-heavy car heeled over on its side. And there they were.
But Dadda was never at a loss. He had the men climb out, and he did too.
"You four husky men get along the outside and lift the car back up while I drive slowly back onto the road. You let go as soon as the car is standing up on the road. Peterson, you take charge out here while I get into the drivers seat.
They lifted the car alright, but as soon as they felt it moving ahead, they all let go, except Peterson, who had the full weight on his shoulder for the final few minutes before the Hudson was fully upright. He had a very sore shoulder for days. Dad had gone ahead as soon as he saw that they had things under control. Before he left he waved at the group around the Hudson, perhaps with a suppressed chuckle. The Model T purred on its way.
But the Hudson arrived in Cragsmoor before the Ford. The men on his fleet began calling him "Shifty," when the word got around. One side of the Hudson was scratched up a mite and the right mudguards were flattened out some but the car ran well and nobody was hurt – unless it was Peterson’s shoulder.
We kids took to meeting Dadda on the road. They were dirt roads then. Sometimes we would hike 3 or 4 miles down into the Walker Valley until he drove in sight. He would stop, greet us with a big smile, and we would jump on the running boards for a thrill ride the rest of the way up the mountain. He always had several bags of fruit and several passengers.
One time Uncle Herman was with us. He was always fun to be with.
"Hurry up and get behind a tree," he shouted, grinning, "Here comes Dadda."
One Saturday morning while Aunt Helen was at the upper cottage, Dadda drove Uncle Oscar up to Cragsmoor. The Hudson had a stick shift that worked in an open "H" on the floor to guide the shift lever into the correct position. About halfway up while Dadda was feeling in his pockets to find out what change he had, a dime fell into the opening for the shift lever, at the floor. Dadda looked down and felt around for the coin, while Uncle Oscar yelled to him that the coin had gone down through the slot and was far behind them on the road surface.
When Dadda looked up again, the car was headed into a field where a troop of cavalry was maneuvering. The troopers parted to allow Dadda’s Hudson to go through. Dadda calmly turned the car back to the macadam roadbed with bounces and squeaks.
Uncle Oscar insisted on taking the train back to New York. He never did ride with Dadda again.
Another time he drove up one Fall with Mother, Mormor, and "Wiggles" (Gertrude Louise) my youngest sister (she must have been about 4 years old). They took along a lunch, which included a thermos of coffee and a bottle of milk. There was almost no other traffic on the road. It was near Suffern, N.Y. Dadda was taking the inside on a curve to take advantage of the way the road was banked, when there was suddenly a car coming at him. He swerved to the right side of the road. But there the bank was against him. The car turned over three times as it tumbled down the steep hill to the right of the roadway. It fell and slid against a large tree, which halted its progress.
Miraculously nobody was hurt, except that Dadda twisted his foot somehow. Little Wiggles’ head was wedged between a car wheel and a huge rock.
"Did Dadda want to die me?" she asked when things quieted down.
Neither the thermos nor the milk bottle were broken so they climbed up the brush-choked hill and had their picnic right alongside of the road, while Dadda hailed down one of the few passing automobiles. He found a new broom that they had taken with them and made a makeshift crutch from it. He hitched a ride into the next town where he arranged for a taxicab. Then he had the cab drive him to the nearest garage where he explained the accident and arranged for them to pull the car back on the road, haul it to their shop, and fix whatever had to be fixed.
The cab took them all the rest of the way to Cragsmoor. They went back to New York Monday morning by train. Miss Wright with Nigger and the carriage took them to Ellenville to meet the train south.
It was a big event when the Norwegian Male Chorus came up. There were about thirty men. Mother made the arrangements for them to stay, some here, some there. All the rooms in every boarding house or summer resort was taken – all the transportation to and from was handled by Dad and myself, except for those with their own cars. Dad had a Studebaker and I had inherited the Model "T." Having just gotten my driver's license, I was most happy to drive them around. Mormor, cousin Betsy and Mother cooked and baked bread and pies for days before they arrived.
There is an "L" shaped porch around each cottage. Somehow we arranged tables and benches around the two sides of the porch at the upper cottage – enough to seat Dadda and all the other men of the chorus. They were hearty eaters, which the fresh mountain aid did nothing to diminish. The women were very busy. The many loaves of homemade bread, and the many pies began to disappear.
After their mid-day dinner, they stood together on the upper road (from the cottage to the Lee Vold) and sang song after song. They sounded great near the top of the mountain, as Godfried Neilson led them and directed them. Even the locusts and kadydids were quiet..
A little later that afternoon I was introduced to baseball Norwegian style. Instead of touching a base to get a man out you had to actually hit the runner with the ball – similar to a tennis ball. It was great fun. The air was full of excited yells. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The high point of the week-end, to me, was the next morning. As the official guide for the Lee Vold, I led the men up through the Lemon Squeezer and Devil’s Kitchen, to the top of the cliff face of Bear Hill. The cliff rose a hundred feet straight up.
They grouped together about ten feet back from the cliff’s edge. The view from this point was breath-taking. Both valleys lay below them. On the Ellenville side a steam train – a long freight – could be seen wending its way around the base of the mountains. A puff of white steam shot up from the struggling engine. Minutes later the sound of the train whistle could be heard.
They sang several Norwegian folk songs. "Nor Fjordina Blau" was my favorite. The strong male voices thundered out in beautiful harmony across the mountainside. We could see the family and the Lee Vold people lining the road below, to see and hear. Dadda was in front center of the group, his voice blending with the others. Many of them must have been thinking of Norway, with its many steep hills and cliffs, and of years gone by. It was an event that I’ll not soon forget. Dadda’s eyes were wet, I noticed.
After the singing, I guided them to the ice caves on Sam’s Point, a few miles back along the mountain top. There was always ice here, even in mid-August.
Almost every week-end (unless it rained or a picnic was planned) there would be some very competitive games of croquet. Dadda and I would team up, and Dad and Captain Larsen (Anna Larsen who ran the Lee Vold was his wife) would team up. Sometimes the lights from parked automobiles had to be used to finish up a tightly contested game.
A long string often had to be used to assure the accuracy of ball placement after it had rolled out-of-bounds. The rule we used was that every out of bounds ball had to be brought in toward the center wicket and then placed one mallet head in from the marked edge of the playing field.
Somehow, I mostly played very well with Dadda as my partner. He would ask me to make almost impossible shots, like hitting a ball at one end of the court, from the opposite end. Dadda would stand behind the ball in line with my ball. Whether he had a magnetic attraction for the ball or not, I would very often hit the designated ball, and then I had two shots to use for mischief or for advancing our team through another wicket or two. We kept the court surface hard and smooth. It was a shale surface and the shale had broken down into very small pieces from much usage. In our highly contested games, it was important to remember who was dead on whom. You got two shots if you hit another ball – but none if you were dead on that ball. You were dead on a ball if you had already hit it before going through another wicket. We had some wild games. We all enjoyed them. (We even had some spectators sometimes from the Lee Vold.) And if you were unfortunate enough to become dead on everybody you were in sad shape because the opposing team would go out of their way to keep you from making another wicket, which would put you alive again. There was a great deal of strategy involved in these games. Excitement often ran high. It was great fun. Cragsmoor Upper House in 2010
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